Monday, August 3, 2015

Activities for Nervous Speakers, Part 1

By Steven S. Vrooman

If you've ever read a "10 Things You Can Do to Reduce Fear of Speaking" blog post and seen things like "relax," you get the problem. There are people who feel a little nervous before a speech as their adrenaline kicks in. We'll call them the JITTERY. Then there are the really nervous folks, people whose communication anxiety ranges from a faucet-dripping presence in their lives to a wave that crashes. We'll call them the PETRIFICUS, because if you've ever been to nervous to stand up to speak or, once standing, lost your place and been too panicky to even open your mouth, you know this feeling, like Hermione just cast pertificus totalus on you.

So here's the problem with these blog posts: they are all written by the JITTERY. They think they are nervous and that their tips, which are just things that they have felt over time with practice, can actually help the PETRIFICUS out there. 

They can't.

It is not the same thing. 

When Dan Roam argues that you can just toss nervousness aside once you prepare well enough, well, that's just another example of who should not be talking on this subject.

In The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking I address everything from anxiety to depression and how you can try to manage, especially if you are a PETRIFICUS. I think there are some useful mental tricks that can help.

But, in the end, without practice, none of those tricks will stick. 

So here are some practice exercises you can do, even by yourself, but which are better with a few supportive friends. I have done these in classes, so I know they work. If you want to do them and just film yourself with your phone and watch it later, that is stressful enough, isn't it? That's the idea, is to try this stuff while using some of the mental reorientations I suggest above. 

1. Impromptu speaking

The great thing about impromptu speaking is that you will be terrible. Mark Twain says you will be terrible. So do I. So do you. I'ts okay. It is an impossible thing. Do it anyway. There's something cool in being given the license to fail.

Look at a topic. Take less than 10 seconds to prepare. Speak for at least a minute. 

Then repeat the exercise until you hate it a tiny bit less. Practice this for as many days in a row as you can. You will still always hate it. But so what? Only the JITTERY types think liking public speaking is needed to succeed. What do they know? It is easy for them.

A great place to get topics is the Impromptu Topics Generator. You can also use this app, which, although not very polished, is free and good for this kind of practice. Since it is on your phone, you can even do it outside, like in the backyard, or a parking lot at school, or someplace where someone might hear you. Extra stress.

2. "Speechless" style

This is based on a comedy routine/consulting business thing (I think. The press on this is hard to interpret). But after reading about it, I started it with my class in this fashion:

Find a random Power Point you know nothing about. Project it. You have to find a way to talk about it without stopping or braking the character/frame/4th wall (you know, no "This Power Point sucks" comments") for a predetermined set of time. I like 7 minutes.

As with the impromptu suggestion, you just keep practicing. Especially in front of your phone. Or friends. It is usually pretty funny in groups, so give it a shot.

Just hop onto slideshare, scroll down or across randomly until you get something you don't know about (if you have an account, this works better if you log off, so it doesn't try to push things at you you like and thus know about). Then full screen and go.

Or, if you want more direction, here are a few to try that are likely to be totally out of your expertise (Obviously each one of these is in SOMEbody's wheelhouse. But I'll bet if you try at least two, you'll be at sea in no time). 

I have 25 here, just in case the teachers who read this blog might want to use this activity in class.

I will not title them here, as that will help you be ready for them. Instead, I will give each link a nickname:

The Green Meanie

It Takes Guts


Specialized Values

Storiform Patterns

Oops, I Did It Again

Five Scenarios

Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes

One Strategic Move to Victory

Words, Words, Words



Cut It Out

Bands on the Run

Angle of Attack

Macro View

Chain Reaction


Club Weapons


Great Expectations

Solid Citizens

The Room

Have a Heart


Try these. As Dory says, "just keep swimming." It's okay if you always hate the ^&$%()#@@ water.

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